Father’s Day regrets about my Dad’s obituary

My father died in February of this year.

I was unable to provide him a traditional rite of passage – an obituary in our local daily paper.

I clung to that void with a firm grip, turning it over in my mind to determine why it troubled me. Sadness that he was denied that final milestone? Concern that I had failed him in the end, making me more like him than I want to admit? Anger that once again, my limited income prevented me from participating in life’s rituals and routines?

So I returned to my own routine and wrote an essay, published by PublicSource this Father’s Day weekend.

When my father, Jim Kerr, died in late February at the age of 83, we followed many traditional rituals. Notifying distant relatives. Finding an appropriate suit. Visitation at a local funeral home. Packing up and donating personal possessions. 

One significant exception was publishing an obituary in the local daily newspaper, in this case the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from which employees are now on strike. That among other reasons made this a difficult decision. For people of my father’s generation, reading the death notices or obituaries is an important way to stay informed of the passing of neighbors, coworkers and friends. Deciding not to place an obituary was therefore a painful choice. 

For my father, it was more personal. He was raised by his maternal grandparents. His grandfather, Gil Remley, was a newspaper man for more than 50 years. He got his start in 1908  as a copy boy racing between reporters and editors. He worked his way up to reporting, eventually landing in the sports departments of the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, and then the Post-Gazette. 

A black and white obituary newspaper clip of Gil Remley.

The obituary of newspaper editor Gil Remley, Jim Kerr’s maternal grandfather. (The Pittsburgh Press via Newspapers.com)

My father was immeasurably proud of his grandfather who had cultivated a lifelong respect for reading the daily paper in his children. My father in turn did the same with me. My parents subscribed to the Pittsburgh Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Both of them read them cover to cover. They passed this on to me. 

This essay visits multiple themes: the Pittsburgh News Guild strike, genealogy, and the collapse of print newspapers.

Ultimately, I found the explanation as to why it troubled me. I think.

My father’s death foreshadows the demise of newspaper obituaries, a disturbing loss for all of us.

Read the essay to learn why this is the case.

Thus, this is not such a happy Father’s Day for me. I’m heading out to lunch with a friend from childhood who also recently lost her Dad. It will be comforting to spend time with someone who knew him.

If you are interested in honoring my Dad (or Mom), we established Kerry’s Kittens to support the #PghCatFolx programs of Pittsburgh LGBTQ Charities, a non-profit I founded.

Rest in power, Dad.


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